Andrew Johns, Brad Fittler urge NRL to return to two referee system

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Andrew Johns has urged the NRL to return to a two-referee system, saying that the speed of the game, as well as the wide range of duties, were simply beyond one person.

Debate has long raged over whether the game was best served with one or two on-field officials and it was brought back into the spotlight after the week one finals, with the Rabbitohs v Roosters game in particular dominated by Bunker interventions.

Johns has been one of the strongest voices against the Bunker since it was introduced and told Wide World of Sports’ Freddy and the Eighth, getting a second referee back on the field could lessen the impact of technology.

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“The game’s getting so fast, and scrutinised so much, it’s too much responsibility on one ref,” Johns said.

“The main referee controls 10 metres, controls foul play, sort of watching the ruck – the person behind is managing the ruck.”

Refereeing will always be at the forefront of any rugby league discourse, but regardless of anyone’s thoughts on their performance, it’s a near-consensus opinion that there’s simply too much to focus on for any one person. 

“The poor referee has got to look at ten metres, he’s got to call surrender, this and that in the ruck, it’s too much responsibility,” Johns said.

The two referee system was implemented in 2009, before being scrapped when the competition restarted in 2020 after a two-month hiatus. 

“I don’t think anyone was upset with two – it was just a matter of COVID … it was only COVID that made it go back to one,” Brad Fittler said.

“If you ask any question on rugby league, there’s always going to be people saying that, and people saying the opposite.”

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Chasing perfection is always going to prompt calls for change – and the two-ref system was an easy target in the past for pundits and fans who sought something to be outraged about.

But the game has lurched through a variety of officiating crises in the past three season – and although Peter V’Landys arrived and pledged to fix officiating, the ruck has slowed down with the removal of the second referee, while the ‘six again’ rule has been an added complication.

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But, as Fittler noted, the ruck was in a relatively healthy place before the second referee was removed.

“When the two refs were there, no one complained – it got to a stage where everyone thought they were doing a pretty good job,” Fittler said.

New Zealand coach Michael Maguire was one expert who defended the two ref system at the time.

“The attack does come with a bit of ruck speed. I think the ruck speed there just shows what happens when you’ve got one ref. That’s the truth,” he told AAP in 2019.

“And it was adjudicated on both teams the same way, so it was exactly the same but as a half, if you can’t generate ruck speed, you can’t get up over the (advantage) line to create the things that we want to do.”

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